Bridging the Healthcare Workforce Gap in Africa: The African Higher Education Health Collaborative

by Amref Health Africa

Africa is pivotal in achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. To meet these ambitious targets, a critical component is the availability of a qualified healthcare workforce. However, a stark reality looms over the horizon – Africa is projected to face a shortage of approximately 6.1 million skilled health workers by 2030, a glaring deficit that threatens attaining these critical global health objectives. In response, the African Higher Education Health Collaborative (HC) was established in 2019, marking the inception of a groundbreaking initiative aimed at enhancing healthcare capacity, fostering innovation, and building a dynamic network of leading African institutions, alums, and partners.

The Health Collaborative, supported by the Mastercard Foundation and the University of Toronto in partnership with eight esteemed African universities, envisions a future where high-quality healthcare in Africa is not only accessible but also led by Africans themselves. To actualise this vision, the initiative is structured around three pillars:

  1. Health Entrepreneurship (HENT): HENT initiatives concentrate on fostering and upholding an entrepreneurial culture within Primary Health Care (PHC). These programs seek to improve healthcare by promoting innovation and entrepreneurship. This will make healthcare more accessible and flexible to meet the various healthcare needs of African communities.
  2. Health Employment (HEMP): HEMP programs aim to strengthen Africa’s ability to educate healthcare professionals who are specifically suited to the needs of the continent. These programs enable graduates to contribute to healthcare systems effectively and address the significant gaps in the healthcare profession by integrating education with real-world demands.
  3. Health Ecosystem (HECO): HECO programs give African students and professionals cutting-edge skills immediately applicable to the continent’s changing healthcare environment. These programs encompass a wide range of subjects, including unorthodox ones frequently left out of regular university curricula, that are essential for the sustainable growth and transformation of the health industry.

The consortium of leading institutions partnering in the HC has a shared vision – to provide comprehensive training, knowledge, and hands-on experiential learning to nurture a cadre of highly skilled healthcare professionals. These include Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, Moi University and Amref International University in Kenya, African Leadership University (ALU) and African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in Rwanda, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and Ashesi University in Ghana, and the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa.

Unveiling Opportunities: The Needs Assessment Research Study (NARs)

Central to the Health Collaborative’s mission is the Needs Assessment Research (NAR) study, a pivotal initiative aimed at illuminating the healthcare landscape in Africa and uncovering opportunities for young Africans in healthcare entrepreneurship and gainful employment. The NAR study delves into Health Collaborative partners’ strengths, resources, and digital infrastructure, focusing on enhancing programme design and implementation.

From May 2022 to December 2023, this ongoing study significantly emphasises engaging key stakeholders within the healthcare ecosystem. It seeks to reveal the resources and support available to students within their respective universities and local communities, empowering them to shape their career paths in the healthcare industry actively. It amplifies students’ voices in co-creation, ensuring that initiatives align with their aspirations and address their needs.

From Investment to Impact: The Promise of African Healthcare

The escalating global health expenditure, as highlighted by the World Health Organization (WHO, 2018), paints a promising outlook for the African healthcare sector. Africa’s healthcare spending is growing at an impressive rate, outpacing the rest of the global economy and accounting for a substantial portion of the continent’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Targeted investments in healthcare could yield remarkable economic gains, including creating an estimated 15 million new jobs by 2030. In particular, investments in health entrepreneurship (HENT) have the potential to open new employment pathways for healthcare professionals, driving economic growth and improving population health.

However, this surge in health spending has not translated into a commensurate improvement in the healthcare ecosystem, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite substantial investments, the region hosts only 3 per cent of the global health workforce while grappling with a disproportionately large disease burden. This underscores the urgent need for investments in HEMP programs to train skilled healthcare workers for Primary Health Care (PHC) and fortify healthcare systems. Similarly, HECO programs equip students and professionals with advanced, context-relevant skills crucial for addressing Africa’s unique healthcare challenges. The Needs Assessment Research study is poised to explore the capacity of these programs to meet industry requirements and employment needs within Africa’s evolving healthcare landscape.

A Brighter, Healthier Africa

The African Higher Education Health Collaborative stands as a beacon of hope for African healthcare. Its three pillars – Health Entrepreneurship, Health Employment, and Health Ecosystems – address the impending healthcare workforce gap and empower African students and professionals to shape the future of healthcare delivery on the continent. Initiatives like the Needs Assessment Research study promise to create a lasting impact and foster an equitable healthcare ecosystem, sustainable and driven by Africans for Africans.

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